This yearís Great British Beer Festival is a little odd; partly because itís back at Olympia after several years at Earls Court, but also because of the carnival atmosphere in London that the Olympics has generated. The train journey through West Brompton station was crammed with young families sporting Union Jacks, definitely not beer festival goers. Earls Court is an Olympic venue hence the change to Olympia.
Memories of Olympia are hot. This vast, arched, steel and glass building was usually like a greenhouse in the August sunshine. No matter how many pints were consumed, there was no relief. Iím told the glass has now been replaced with something less heat transmitting and it does seem tp be cooler. It may be my imagination too, but the event seems smaller than usual, with fewer stands. The usual big brewing suspects are there - Fullers, Marstons, Charles Wells and Greene King Ė but are there fewer beers on offer? Not so - according to the listings. Perhaps itís because some of the beers and most of the seating is upstairs, something I discovered too late, having performed a balancing act with glass, bag and meat pie.
Greg Mulholland MP officially opened the festival with his characteristic dry wit and congratulated CAMRA on its support for real ale and the British pub. The pub may be fighting for its survival but real ale is enjoying a renaissance, prompting an explosion of new breweries opening in recent years and bringing the current total to around 840. The Lib-Dem MP went on to urge every festival goer to sign the Beer Escalator e-Petition, which he said was an attack on British pubs and ale producers. One bitter note from Mulholland was the Olympic organisers decision to give Heineken sole beer rights at London 2012 when they could have showcased Britain's cask ale producers. Beer guru Roger Protz announced the Champion Beers of Britain which are listed below.
I did get to have some of the Champion Beer of Britain, Coniston No9 Barley Wine, a sweet, smooth and powerful beer at 8.5%. I donít know if things are better organised this year, but following the announcement the CBoB it often runs out very quickly. A barley wine is unusual to be a CBoB and until recently the style had all but disappeared. A Tweet from beer writer Pete Brown suggested another barley wine no less, from Greene King called 5X. At 12% itís a thick, oily affair with an obvious punch. Given the choice I prefer the No9 for its more gentle flavour and softer feel.
CAMRA have this year put all the CBoB shortlist beers on one long stand, which makes tracking them down a lot easier, but may skew the trade to one end. I reckon itís worth taking a measured approach and seek out beers youíre unlikely to come across down your local. Whatever your tipple enjoy it sensibly.
Gold- Coniston, No.9 Barley Wine (from Coniston, Cumbria)
Silver- Green Jack, Trawlerboys Best Bitter (from Lowestoft, Suffolk)
Bronze- Dark Star, American Pale Ale (from Horsham, West Sussex)
Gold- Rudgate, Ruby Mild (from York, North Yorkshire)
Silver- Hobsons, Hobsons Mild (from Cleobury Mortimer, Shropshire)
Bronze- Son of Sid, Muckcart Mild (from Little Gransden, Bedfordshire)
Gold- Purple Moose, Snowdonia Ale (from Porthmadog, Gwynedd)
Silver- Tintagel, Castle Gold (from Tintagel, Cornwall)
Joint Bronze- Flowerpots, Bitter (from Cheriton, Hampshire)
Joint Bronze- Fullerís, Galeís Seafarers Ale (from London, W4)
Joint Bronze- Salopian, Shropshire Gold (from Shrewsbury, Shropshire)
Gold- Green Jack, Trawlerboys Best Bitter (from Lowestoft, Suffolk)
Silver - Salopian, Hop Twister (from Shrewsbury, Shropshire)
Joint Bronze- Oakwell, Senior Bitter (from Barnsley, South Yorkshire)
Joint Bronze- Milton, Pegasus (from Milton, Cambridgeshire)
Gold- Dark Star, American Pale Ale (from Horsham, West Sussex)
Silver- Cumbrian Legendary Ales, Langdale (from Hawkshead, Cumbria)
Bronze- Hobsons, Town Crier (from Cleobury Mortimer, Shropshire)
Gold- Dark Star, Festival (from Horsham, West Sussex)
Silver- OíHanlonís, Stormstay (from Whimple, Devon)
Bronze- Highland, Orkney IPA (from Swannay, Orkney)
Gold- Dunham Massey, Chocolate Cherry Mild (from Dunham Massey, Gtr Manchester)
Silver- Little Valley, Hebdenís Wheat (from Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire)
Bronze- Nethergate, Umbel Magna (from Pentlow, Essex)
Champion Winter Beer of Britain (from category winners announced in January 2012)-
Coniston, No.9 Barley Wine (from Coniston, Cumbria)
Hammerpot, Bottle Wreck Porter (from Poling, West Sussex)
Cairngorm, Black Gold (from Aviemore, Highlands)
Driftwood, Alfieís Revenge (from St Agnes, Cornwall)
Champion Bottled Beer of Britain winners-
Gold- Stewart, Embra (from Loanhead, Midlothian)
Silver- Great Gable, Yewbarrow (from Egremont, Cumbria)
Bronze- Molson Coors, Worthingtonís White Shield (from Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire)
P.S. Donít forget to sign the Beer Duty Escalator e-petition.